Stanley Cup Finals Prediction

Stanley Cup Finals Prediction

Here we go. The New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings for the Stanley Cup. The two biggest markets in the NHL, and a coast to coast battle that has never been seen before in the playoffs.

The Kings have become a semi-dynasty in the Western Conference, along with the Blackhawks, as they are going for their second Cup in the last three years. They had been in the conference finals for three straight years, which, in the cap-era, is incredibly consistent. The Kings are good, all over the place. They have the goalie, the D, and the forwards to get it done, as they already have.

rangers3The Rangers are probably more of a surprise to be here than the Kings are, given that the majority of people had the Bruins or Penguins going to the finals from the East (Note: I correctly predicted both conference final outcomes, so…yay me!).

kingsHere are my thoughts on the series:

  • Can’t ask for much of a better goalie match. There is gold and silver winning, all-world goalie Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers. Widely regarded as the best goalie in the league (and for good reason), Henrik has done it all, except win a Cup. He is already a legend in NYC, and if he wins the Cup, he will be an immortal there. On the other side, Jonathan Quick has risen to the top ranks of the league, having won a Cup, a Conn Smythe Trophy, and serving as the US starting goalie in the Sochi Olympics. He has a fat contract from the last time he won the Cup, and now he is again proving that he is a money goalie. Even though he didn’t have the greatest regular season, he has been beyond good in the playoffs. Even though this is a pretty even battle, I have to give the edge to the hungry Lundqvist. 
  • On defense, this is another great battle. Both teams are stacked. The Kings have the best d-man in the league with Drew Doughty. They also have great depth, with guys like Martinez, Voynov, Greene, Mitchell, and Muzzin. These guys can score, along with playing a tight defensive game in front of their goalie. They did show vulnerability against Chicago, and they will show some breakdowns now and then. The Rangers don’t have the same firepower as the Hawks, and will have a tougher time breaking down the tough Kings D. The Rangers can respond with up-and-coming elite D man, Ryan McDonagh, along with an equally formidable stable of depth with Girardi (one of the best defensive defencemen in the league), Staal, and Stralman. I have to give the edge to the Kings here, just because they can get more goals and points from the back end than the Rangers will.
  • On offense, the teams are built in a similar fashion. Some high end talent (Kopitar, Carter, Gaborik against St. Louis, Nash, Zucharello, Richards) in front of a bunch of tough guys who can also put the puck in the net. The building of these teams is very similar. There are guys that can put the puck in the net. There are guys who can crash and bang, and make you regret going into the corners. There are third and fourth liners who can also contribute on both ends of the ice. I call this a slight edge to the Kings, because of how good Kopitar is in both ends of the ice.
  • What about the exhaustion? The Kings have played 7 games in each series. Incredibly, they have won game 7 on the road each time around. The teams they have played are bruisers, and even though they have come through, they could be pretty beat up by this point. Can they keep it up after such long, gruesome battles?
  • The Rangers, while playing fewer games, and having more rest between series, had some tough battles as well. But I don’t think that playing the depleted Habs is anything like the ringers the Kings have been through.
  • New York has some karma going for them. 20 years have gone by since their last appearance. The city is electric for the Rangers. Are they a team of destiny?
  • As I mentioned above, the Kings are kind of a dynasty at this point. In the playoffs, they seem as though they are unbeatable. They beat their nemesis in Chicago. They need to be sure to not overlook the Rangers, however. King Henrik can steal more than just a game, but an entire series.
  • Now that LA has home ice advantage, will they play differently? They have a great, desperate game on the road, and they haven’t been the same at home. Have to wonder if their us against the world mentality will be affected by being the favorite, and having home ice advantage for the biggest series.
  • This is really a closer call than I thought it would be. I figured that whoever came out of the West would stomp the Rangers, but now I’m not as convinced. And if this year’s playoffs have taught us anything, it’s that these series are closer than we might ever expect.
  • I hope for a good series, as do all. Best of luck to the Kings and the Rangers. Whoever wins, they will have earned it.

Prediction: I’m going with the Los Angeles Kings to take home another Cup. In 6 games. 

NHL Playoff Predictions- Conference Finals

NHL Playoff Predictions- Conference Finals

Another round of the Stanley Cup marathon is in the books, and I did pretty well in my guesses for the second round. I was right about the Kings, Blackhawks, and Rangers, while being wrong (again) about the Canadiens. I had the Bruins going all the way to the final, so I was pretty surprised by the results. But it happens, and I’ll take my 75% correct guesses any day.

Halfway done.
Halfway done.

Now we move on to the Conference Finals, the Final Four. After 82 regular season games and two grueling rounds of playoff action, we are left with the four teams who have survived up until this point. The Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings, and the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.

These both should amount to good series, and the first year of the new playoff format has been a massive success, in my mind, as all of the battles have been pretty good, and there hasn’t really been a dud series yet. You can see the rivalries continuing or developing, as they should for the foreseeable future.

On to my next round of guesses.

Los Angeles Kings vs. Chicago Blackhawks

  • How well do the Kings play with their backs up against the wall? So far this year, they are 6-0 when they are facing elimination. That is beyond impressive, as they have been dominant in those games, including both Game 7s they have played in so far. This is a team that knows how to show up and win when it matters most.
  • Drew Doughty is just awesome. He runs the Kings, and he does it well. The guy is absolute beast, and absolutely does it all for LA. He would be in the Conn Smythe conversation if he were putting up a few more points.
  • Someone who is in the conversation for playoff MVP is Anze Kopitar, who has been on fire for the entire playoffs, scoring a point in nearly every game. It will be a great battle seeing him going against another all-world defensive forward in Jonathan Toews. These guys are two of the very best (and both Selke nominees), and it will be a treat to watch them play against one another.
  • Goalie advantage goes to the Kings. I’ll take Quick over Crawford any day, even though I believe that Crawford is in that Chris Osgood area where he does nothing wrong, but still gets no respect from anybody. The guy is a Cup winner, but he is more apt to give up a bad one than Quick is.
  • These are two teams that have incredible depth. The Hawks have a great bottom 6, guys who can plug away, frustrate another team, and contribute offensively. It’s always tough when a team can roll out four lines that can do damage to you in one way or another. But the Kings can offer the same thing. They have toughness and scoring spread throughout their lineup, and they can always be dangerous as well.
  • Any time the Kings play, it will be a bruising series. They are so big and so fast. Chicago isn’t as big, but they can absolutely fly on the ice. That will be the biggest challenge for the Kings, is keeping up with the speed across the way. They will be trying to slow them down with their size, and hopefully they don’t have circles skated around them. Not that the Sharks or Ducks were slow teams, but they were built more like the Kings are, and LA is better at their own game. This will be the first battle where they are playing a different style of team.
  • I can see LA struggling to adapt to the different style of play the Hawks employ. This could get Chicago one or two valuable wins.
  • Have to wonder if LA is getting tired from the grinding seven game series they have had to play already. Chicago has won both their matchups in 6 games, and neither series was as physical as LA.
  • This is a rematch from last year’s conference finals, that the Hawks won. Can the Kings get revenge here? Did they learn anything from last year?
  • This is also the third straight year the Kings have been in the third round of the playoffs, which shows their consistency as an organization.
  • Honestly, I don’t see massive advantages anywhere. If the Hawks are better at one thing, the Kings are better at another. A pretty balanced series, which makes it hard to guess. So I guess I’ll go with my gut.

Prediction: Kings in 7

kings2

New York Rangers vs. Montreal Canadiens

  • Well, I am 0-2 when it comes to guessing the Montreal series. I thought they would lose to Tampa and get whipped by Boston. I was wrong on both counts.
  • I predicted the Rangers to the finals since the beginning of the year (against St. Louis, but we won’t talk about that). Nice to have a horse still in the race.
  • This is a battle of perhaps the best two goalies on earth right now: Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist. You can’t say enough about how either one of them has performed so far. They are the backbones of their teams.
  • This is also an Olympic goalie rematch in the Canada vs. Sweden gold medal game. Of course, Price won that one and the gold medal.
  • Both teams are balanced in a similar way. There is equality all through the forward lineup. The Habs scorers seem to be scoring, while the Rangers scorers are becoming more all around players, even if they aren’t putting the puck in the net (hello, Rick Nash).
  • Overall, I’d say New York has the better D corps, but the Habs have something the Rangers don’t: P.K. Subban. This kid can change the course of a game. With a big hit, or a jaw-dropping goal. Every shift, he is a threat to do something crazy, or something incredible. That is a massive advantage for Montreal, especially coming from the back end.
  • Do I jump on the bandwagon, and cheer for the only Canadian team left (and the only Canadian team to make it, actually) in the playoffs? Or do I stick to my guns with my initial prediction from the beginning of the year?
  • Is it possible to bet against Price at this point. He is absolutely on fire, is completely unfazed by the pressure, and is now facing a team that is decidedly weaker than their previous opponent, the Bruins? Can he keep up this amazing pace? Will the team begin to relax in front of him knowing that he is standing on his head?
  • On paper, I like the look of the Rangers better than I do the Habs. Both teams have good momentum getting here, with the Rangers overcoming a 3-1 deficit against Pittsburgh. Something has to give. The Rangers are clicking at the right time, playing some of their best hockey of the season, while the Canadiens seem to be playing above their heads.
  • Again, this one is going to come down to a gut decision.

Prediction: Rangers in 6.

rangers2

I think the fact that both of these series are tough to guess, speaks to how good of matchups they are, and how good these playoffs have been. I can easily see it being a Chicago-Montreal final, or any other combination. But as it stands right now, I’m going for the New York-Los Angeles mega city challenge for the championship.

Round 2 Observations

Round 2 Observations

We are part way through the second round of the NHL playoffs, and it looks like we have some tight series on our hands, which is always great to see.

Boston and Montreal tied 2-2

  • I feel that with the Bruins winning Game 4 in overtime, it will be the turning point they need to take this series. Not that you can nitpick a 1-0 overtime loss, but the Habs really needed that one.
  • Carey Price is establishing himself as one of the best high-level goalies in the game. We should have known that before, and especially after he dominated in the Olympics, but he is awesome. If the NHL is back in the Olympics in 2018, I want him as my started for Team Canada.
  • It is weird that a goalie as good as Rask has such trouble with one team. But he stepped up in Game 4. No curses here.

Pittsburgh leads New York 3-2

  • Inspiring story of Martin St. Louis playing the day after his mother passed away. I can’t even imagine.
  • The Rangers offense woke up in Game 5 to stay alive. Can they show up for another game to push it to 7? Or will they go back into a slumber and make Fleury look like a good goalie again?
  • It would be nice if Rick Nash decided to show up on the scoresheet. His production will be key for what remains of the series.
  • Is Fleury rattled after giving up 5 goals last game? Will this crack him, or can he bounce back to his ways of back-to-back shutouts earlier in the series?
  • It’s odd how harsh we will be on Crosby’s games. He finally scored a goal in the series, but we want more. Regardless of the points he is putting up, he is still dominant, and by far the best player in the game.

Chicago and Minnesota tied 2-2

  • Will Minnesota ever lose on home ice?
  • If Bryzgalov can put together a decent game on the road, the defending champs could be in some serious trouble.
  • I like the look of this Wild team, and Parise has been great so far. Shown tremendous leadership and has raised his game to a new level.
  • I kind of want the Wild to win this one. I thought the Hawks would roll through this series.
  • Very strong performance by the Wild D so far.

anzeLos Angeles leads Anaheim 2-1

  • It’s too bad nobody sees this series, it may be the best one.
  • These teams do not like each other. Which is what the playoffs are all about.
  • Good black and blue hockey.
  • The Kings really need to put a stranglehold on the Ducks tonight. They don’t want to be going back to Anaheim with the series tied up. They need to finish, like the Sharks couldn’t do with them.
  • How amazing has Anze Kopitar been in this series? He has been on the cusp of stardom for years, and is one of the best two-way players in the game.
  • Who cares about Jonathan Quick’s regular season numbers? The kid plays big when it is important.

NHL Playoff Predictions- Round 1

NHL Playoff Predictions- Round 1

Here are some vague guesses for round 1 of this year’s Stanley Cup tournament. I am really liking the new playoff format, as there are some really, really good matchups in the first round. A couple of them could end up being blood baths, and that is all that NHL fans can ask for. There is nothing better than the first round, in my mind, where upsets happen, and teams who move on get beat up. It’s an exciting time to be a hockey fan.

crystallWestern Conference

Anaheim Ducks vs. Dallas Stars

  • This has quickly become the trendy upset pick, with a lot of people choosing the Stars to take down the hot-starting Ducks, who traditionally fade over the course of the season.
  • Ducks are top heavy. Not much beyond the Getzlaf-Perry line.
  • Anaheim seems to have endless stud goalies, so whether they end up with Andersson, Hiller, or Gibson, they are in good shape.
  • Love, love, love the combo of Benn and Seguin in Dallas. They will be good together for a long time.
  • Surprising depth on the Stars. They are pretty underrated across the board.

Prediction: Stars in 7. I’m going with the trends here.

Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild

wild

  • Hugely surprising year for the Avs. Are they ready to make the next step?
  • Biggest question in Colorado is that unknown D corps. Can they stop a consistent Wild team?
  • Huge disadvantage for the Wild in net. Bryzgalov is the ultimate wild card here. He could be great. He could be awful.
  • Big bonus for the Wild: their D is very strong, led by Ryan Suter. He will be a difference maker.
  • I’m smelling upset here.

Prediction: Wild in 6. Avalanche not ready to be great just yet.

San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings

kings

  • This would be a worthy Western Conference Final matchup.
  • It’s too bad one of these teams has to go home, they are both Cup contenders. But that’s the beauty of the new playoff format.
  • Great rivalry. This is one of those series that will be an all out war. It’s going to go 7, no matter who wins. Winning team will be battered and bruised by the time they get to the 2nd round.
  • Biggest advantage is for the Kings in net, with Quick over the under-appreciated, but inconsistent Antti Niemi.

Prediction: Kings in 7. Too deep. Too relentless. Sharks love to choke. 

St.Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks

st-louis-blues-logo

  • Ugly 6-game losing streak for the Blues leading into the playoffs.
  • Ryan Miller has come back to earth after hot start after his trade to St. Louis.
  • Battle of injured teams. A lot of banged-up guys on both teams. Hawks are getting Kane and Toews back, the Blues should get Backes and Oshie back. Big difference if they are fully healthy.
  • Another bruising series. The Blues play mean, and I wonder if the Hawks have enough to fight back with.
  • It’s so hard to repeat as champs in this league.

Prediction: Blues in 7. I think they can turn it around. They are just infinitely deep and tough to play against. 

 

Eastern Conference

Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings

bruins

  • 23rd straight year the Wings are in the dance. Incredible.
  • Important injuries on the Red Wings, including Zetterberg, who won’t be back. Datsyuk always seems to be banged up now.
  • Bruins are a monstrous team. They can score, defend, and beat you up. Wings can’t match them in any department.

Prediction: Bruins in 5

 

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

pens

  • Maybe the most unappealing first round matchup?
  • Constant worry over Fleury in the Pens net. Bobrovsky is an advantage for Columbus.
  • Columbus has only been to the playoffs once before, and they were swept. Going against a team that can explode offensively.
  • Will Malkin be back?
  • Crosby has had an incredible season, and there is no reason to believe that he won’t continue it in the playoffs.

Prediction: Penguins in 7. I really want to take the Jackets in an upset, but they just aren’t there yet. If Malkin is back, they take it. 

Montreal Canadiens vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

  • The biggest coin flip of the first round. Both teams are evenly matched.
  • Biggest impact is Ben Bishop’s injury. Huge downgrade to have Anders Lindback in net.
  • Carey Price has had a good year. He can/will be a difference maker.
  • Love the young guns of the Bolts. Stamkos, Palat, Johnson, Callahan.
  • Big year from Victor Hedman, largely not discussed over the course of the year. Big breakout for him.

Prediction: Lightning in 6. I feel the Habs will disappoint, and not give Price enough support. 

New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers

rangers

  • Another great rivalry, both teams are real contenders coming off a terrible start to the season.
  • Huge plus having Lundqvist over Mason in net.
  • Will be a tough series, both teams can hit and mix it up. Will be a bruiser of a series.
  • Not terribly sold on the Flyers D. Not that the Rangers set the world on fire on offense, but there is enough depth to do some damage.

Prediction: Rangers in 6. 

 

There we have it. Now we can sit back and enjoy the games, as they start tomorrow night. NHL playoffs are the best time of year, after the long, grueling season. Time to get to the real games!

 

 

Quick Thoughts: Team USA Olympic Hockey Roster

Following the Winter Classic game in Detroit today, the US announced their Olympic hockey team for the upcoming games in Sochi, Russia. Immediately, we look to the players that didn’t make the cut, such as Bobby Ryan, Erik Johnson, Jack Johnson, Kyle Okposo, or my most surprising omission, Keith Yandle.

usa-hockey-2014-jerseysHere are the players (from cbssports.com):

Left Wing: Dustin Brown, Max Pacioretty, Zach Parise, James van Riemsdyk. A little bit of everything here. Brown is tough, Parise is fast, and Pacioretty can finish. I like this group.

Center: David Backes, Ryan Kesler, Joe Pavelski, Paul Stasny. Backes has become a favorite of mine, and there is good toughness here with him and Kesler. Not sold on the Stasny pick. It seems like the high point of his career is past him, and he is no longer an offensive force.

Right Wing: Ryan Callahan, Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel, TJ Oshie. Love the inclusion of Oshie. Kane is one of the best, and Callahan has grit and leadership.

Extra Forwards: Derek Stepan, Blake Wheeler. This is where it is surprising that Bobby Ryan didn’t make the cut.

Defense: Cam Fowler, John Carlson, Ryan McDonagh, Justin Faulk, Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin, Ryan Suter, Kevin Shattenkirk. Big youth movement here! I like these picks, although Orpik sort of sticks out like a sore thumb to me. It’s important to have defensive-minded players, but it seems to me that Orpik isn’t the best at doing this. I foresee him struggling on the bigger ice in more wide-open situations. Not a ton of size and definitely missing some angry with these picks, but that’s not the most important thing on the big ice. The team was going for speed, and they will get it with these D. There will be a ton of pressure on these young guys, and it will be interesting to see how they react. The worst-case scenario is that they do poorly, but Team USA is set up for the next couple of Olympics with this group able to grow together.

Goalies: Jonathan Quick, Ryan Miller, Jimmy Howard. No surprises here. Won’t be surprised if Miller comes in and takes over the starter’s role. He still has a ton of fight left in him, and has been doing his best in a bad situation in Buffalo this year. Plus, a big Olympics could boost his trade value even more. A little concerned with the Quick injury, but he will be back on the ice soon enough and will be able to get plenty of action in before going to Russia.

Overall, I don’t know that this team has near the same depth that Canada will once it reveals its roster. But something the US has been good at doing in the last couple Olympics is put together good teams, not necessarily just a collection of the best players. With this team, I feel they will be in the running for the medals. The US always seems to step it up, even when they are not expected to (see 2010 Games in Vancouver). I don’t see them as a gold medal threat, but I can easily picture them playing for bronze. Really, this tourney comes down to who has the hottest goalies (and I will call Finland as being a good dark horse pick, because their goaltending situation is amazing). Most glaring weakness for me is on the back end, and that could expose their goalies a little too much in such a short tournament.They also seem that they will struggle to score goals, because outside of Kane and maybe Kessel, they lack some true snipers. There is plenty of grit up front, and we will see how that works out for them.

Only a few weeks and we’ll get to see!